Chef’s Guide to Hawaii Grinds

Hawaii’s culinary experts offer their dishes hot, from the non-negotiable beach snacks, the freshest punches and the controversial age-old question: “What’s your favorite island?” While you learn what to order next at Palace Saimin (thanks, Mark Noguchi), a hearty family meal for these chefs seems hard to beat.

Brian Hirata

Photo: Courtesy of Na’au

Brian Hirata is the creative force behind Na’au, a pop-up dining experience on the island of Hawaii. Drawing inspiration from a childhood of hunting, fishing, farming and gathering on the islands, Hirata showcases local ingredients often overlooked in Naʻau dishes. It hosts high-end pop-up dinners once a month across the Big Island. He is also the culinary program coordinator at Hawaiʻi Community College, encouraging new generations of chefs to use creative ingredients.

  1. Your favorite island? The island of Hawaii because it has so many different microclimates. You can play in the snow and then go surfing a few hours later. I also like being able to fish, forage and hunt all over the island.
  2. The must-see spot for a poke bowl? The Poke Market in Hilo. Their poke bowls are simply delicious and their menu has some really cool and contemporary poke options. Some places don’t pre-season the fish ahead of time. This results in a bland poke, especially when you get to the center of the bowl. However, every bite in a bowl of Poke Market is packed with flavor.
  3. Fancy a comforting meal, where are you going? I love going to my Aunt Jenny’s, where she often cooks plantation style dishes. It’s very comforting, and what I grew up eating.
  4. On the way to the beach, what snacks do you always have? Bentos are ideal, especially those with nori chicken, cone sushi and red hot dogs.

Jeff Liles

Aloha Beer’s master brewer, Jeff Liles, is an expert at pairing satisfying dishes with refreshing beers. After all, the brewmaster is responsible for selecting the best ingredients and perfecting the drink recipes in the Honolulu brewery and restaurant.

  1. Your favorite island? My favorite island is the island of Hawaii. There are so many beautiful sites and it has an incredible history. From orchid farms outside of Hilo to coffee plantations in Kealakekua, the Big Island has such diverse flora and fauna found only in Hawaiʻi. The Big Island also hosts the Kona Brewers Festival!
  2. The must-see spot for a poke bowl? I love Tamura’s shoyu poke. The freshness is unbeatable. They have such a great poke selection; I can always find what I’m looking for. It’s also my neighborhood store.
  3. Fancy a comforting meal, where are you going? My favorite place for comfort food is Sikdorak Korean Restaurant. I love all the different banchan and their kimchi is amazing. It’s also a BYOB restaurant, which allows me to bring various beers to go with their great menu selections.
  4. On the way to the beach, what snacks do you always have? There are only two snacks in my beach bag. I love the quick combination of spam musubi and minced pork. It’s a great way to start a day at the beach.

Marc Noguchi

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Photo: Courtesy of Mark Noguchi

Better known as “Gooch”, Marc Noguchi is an acclaimed chef born and raised on Oʻahu. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of the Pacific and the Culinary Institute of America, he gained recognition at numerous restaurants, and later at his own Heʻeia Kea Pier Deli and General Store. He then started Pili Group, a catering and events company with his wife and business partner. In 2018, Pili Group launched Chief Hui as a means of strengthening ties between the culinary industry and the community. During the pandemic, they worked with local organizations on #FeedThePeopleHI, distributing meal bags to feed those facing food insecurity.

  1. favorite island: It’s a tough choice between Maui and Hawaiʻi Island. My mom’s family is from Hilo and I lived in Hilo so I would have to go with the big island.
  2. The must-see spot for a poke bowl? I always get shoyu poke from Ernie’s Poke Market in Hilo.
  3. Fancy a comforting meal, where are you going? Palace Saimin and I ordered a small wonton min, with four extra wontons and three meat sticks.
  4. On the way to the beach, what snacks do you always have? A cooler full of drinks and some sort of okazu (Small Japanese plates.)

Anthony Rush

Chef co-founder and owner Anthony Rush leads the culinary team at Senia. Since opening in 2016, the restaurant has been one of the hottest restaurants on Oʻahu. The restaurant won Gold in 2019 for the Hale ʻAina Award for Best Tasting and Menu and Silver for Best Restaurant on Oʻahu.

  1. Your favorite island? Oʻahu because it’s my home! It’s as beautiful as any other island I’ve been lucky enough to visit, and it also has everything you could want: an urban center and a vibrant restaurant and bar scene.
  2. The must-see spot for a poke bowl? Domo Café and Pāʻina Café. Domo is our neighbor in Chinatown and they have kept us happy and fed for years. They source directly from the fish market and cook everything to order. At Pāʻina, I love the spicy tuna crunch bowl!
  3. Fancy a comforting meal, where are you going? Podmore. Being British, their dishes taste nostalgic and comforting to me. These flavors are not too readily available in Hawaiʻi. I had to open my own lounge to find my favorite comfort foods!
  4. On the way to the beach, what snacks do you always have? Coconut water, seasonal fruits and then I’ll get some Thai food afterwards.

Alvin Savella

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Photo: Rolland & Jessica

Maui’s kitchen assassin Alvin Savella is killing the food scene. The executive chef of Mala Tavern, Down the Hatch and Breakwall Shave Ice Co. brings local flair using fine culinary techniques. Known for his diligent attention to detail, Savella can be found with tweezers, delicately garnishing his plates with herbs and greens.

  1. What is your favorite island? Maui No Ka Oi, baby!
  2. The must-see spot for a poke bowl? Besides doing mine, Tamura’s.
  3. Want comfort food, where are you going? Home of course. I will always choose a large family reunion because it’s comfort food at its best.
  4. On the way to the beach, what snacks do you always have? The essentials: poke, musubi and my favorite foie gras, PB&J. Oh, and a few beers.

jeff scherer

Catch Jeff Scheer, one of Maui’s best-known chefs, making sourdough pizzas at his new Upcountry restaurant. After selling wood-fired pizzas from their backyard oven during the pandemic, Scheer and his wife opened popular neighborhood pizzeria, Marlow. The restaurant’s pies showcase local toppings, including broccolini, tomatoes, potatoes and meats.

  1. What is your favorite island? Maui, most definitely. It has the perfect mix of everything except dim sum. We have to fly to Oʻahu for that.
  2. A go-to place for a poke bowl? My stepfather is a fisherman and his poke is unbeatable.
  3. Fancy a comforting meal, where are you going? If I’m looking for comfort food, I stay home with my wife and kids. We live on top of the mountain and we like to cook together.
  4. On the way to the beach, what snacks do you always have? Mainly children’s snacks and a cooler full of Lambrusco for the adults.

Lee Anne Wong

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Photo: David Croxford

The former “Top Chef”, Lee Anne Wong is the head of Maui’s historic Pioneer Inn. Reimagining and revamping the restaurant, Wong transformed the Pioneer Inn Grill and Bar into Papaʻaina at the Pioneer Inn. (Papa’aina means “dining table”.) With a contemporary twist, Wong’s revisits modern local cuisine.

  1. What is your favorite island? Kauaʻi has a special place in my heart, it’s where I met my husband.
  2. A go-to place for a poke bowl? `Ono seafood on Kapahulu. Hawaiian style and wasabi ahi are perfect.
  3. Fancy a comforting meal, where are you going? Fook Lam for dim sum. Now that I live on Maui, I make it a point to stock up on dim sum whenever I’m on Oʻahu, usually bringing a giant bag home for the family.
  4. On the way to the beach, what snacks do you always have? Haven’s and Jersey Mike’s.
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